Monday, January 25, 2010

The Misery of Haitian Immigration

As the death toll from the Haitian earthquake continues to soar, the open borders crowd, ever eager to use tragedy to advance their cause, are now suggesting that the US open itself to mass immigration from Haiti in order to help the Haitian people. The argument, most cogently advanced by Elliot Abrams, runs as follows: in order for Haiti to finance its rebuilding it will need money; since many other countries receive substantial revenues from their nationals living in the US (i.e. Mexico), the best thing the US can do for Haiti is to allow hundreds of thousands of Haitians to migrate to the US, find work, and send back remittances so that their Haiti-bound relatives can rebuild the country.

...for one of the best ways to help Haiti is to allow some Haitians to move abroad. It is ridiculous to argue that leaving Haiti in the coming year or two "will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation." Migration would mean that Haiti needs to provide fewer hospital beds, schools, meals and jobs -- and migrants' remittances will be key to Haiti's economic recovery for decades to come.

President Obama said that the disaster in Haiti "is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership." He should be asking Congress not only to provide aid funds but also to allow a significant increase in the number of Haitians legally admitted to the United States -- to several times the roughly 25,000 per year in the past decade. Canada and France should do the same. There are no panaceas for Haiti's recovery, but any sensible approach must include migration from the island. If the United States is committed to giving Haiti hope for the future, enlarging the Haitian diaspora is a surefire way to succeed.

Of course, Mr. Abrams doesn't address the immediately obvious question: Who will employ the new waves of Haitian immigrants? Secure at his prestigious think tank, Ol' Elliot might not have noticed, but the US is still mired in one of the worst recessions of the post-WWII period. With the US unemployment rate above 10%, there are no jobs available for a hundred thousand more people. Worse yet, what would an influx of new, mostly unskilled workers do to the fragile job market in the US, save to drive down already falling wages? And when the new Haitian immigrants fail to secure employment, who will provide their living expenses? Why, the US taxpayer, of course! Abrams probably has the arguments for increased welfare benefits to Haitian immigrants already worked out. Indeed, Abrams couldn't care less about the impact of increased Haitian immigration on the US. Increasing racial diversity is the unspoken motive of Abrams plan; any other consequence is irrelevant to him and his ilk.

Moreover, the impact of a "Haitian Diaspora" (to use Abrams' charming phrase) would be every bit as devastating to Haiti as it would be to the US, since the smartest and most productive Haitians would leave. Given that Haiti was not a bastion of high IQ people prior to the earthquake, draining off the top tier of the country's brain pool is hardly the best way of helping Haiti. If Haiti is ever to emerge from the cultural and economic swamp in which it has wallowed for two centuries, it needs more smart people, not less. These ideas are unspeakable to the like of Mr. Abrams, however.

Incidentally, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) provides a convenient fact sheet regarding Haitian immigrants. Some highlights:

•Of Haitian immigrants (ages 25 to 65) 22 percent have not graduated from high school and 18 percent have a college degree. This compares to 9 percent and 30 percent, respectively, for native-born Americans.8

•The share of Haitian immigrants and their young children (under 18) living in poverty is 20 percent. For native-born Americans and their young children it is 11.6 percent.9

•The share of Haitian immigrants and their young children who lack health insurance is 29.5 percent. For native-born Americans and their children it is 12.6 percent.10

•Of households headed by Haitian immigrants 46 percent use at least one major welfare program. For households headed by native-born Americans it is 20 percent.11

•The share of Haitian immigrants who own their own home is 49 percent. For native-born Americans it is 69 percent.

Given these facts, it is clear that permitting additional immigration from Haiti will do little to decrease Haitian misery, but a lot to increase American disintegration. But that's just fine with Elliot Abrams and his fellow travellers.

The Chavez Collapse

While the world's attention is focused on the twin disasters of the Haitian earthquake and the unraveling Obama agenda, one of the left's recent great hopes is beginning to teeter and collapse. Even the Washington Post editorial page deputy editor Jackson Diehl has noticed what is happening.

During the past two weeks, just before and after the earthquake outside Port-au-Prince, the following happened: Chávez was forced to devalue the Venezuelan currency, and impose and then revoke massive power cuts in the Venezuelan capital as the country reeled from recession, double-digit inflation and the possible collapse of the national power grid.

In addition to Venezuela's economic troubles, Chavez's efforts to raise up leftist leaders in the nations around him are also flagging. Honduras has resolved its political crisis - provoked by a Chavez ally - without violence and with a deal that sends Chavez's ally packing.

But the international response to the horror of the Haitian disaster has done the most to expose the bankruptcy of Chavez's leftist rhetoric. For all Chavez's bluster (and that of Cuba's Castro, or Bolivia's Morales), the massive aid now rescuing and feeding the destitute Haitians isn't coming from any of the great Latin American bastions of socialism, but rather from the capitalist Satan itself.

Haiti only deepens Chávez's hole. As the world watches, the United States is directing a massive humanitarian operation, and Haitians are literally cheering the arrival of U.S. Marines. Chávez has no way to reconcile those images with his central propaganda message to Latin Americans, which is that the United States is an "empire" and an evil force in the region.

Of course, many leftwing regimes have regularly weathered such public exposure of their lies over the decades. What finally brings them to their knees are the brutal facts of economics - namely, that socialism doesn't work.

Then there is the meltdown Chávez faces at home. Despite the recovery in oil prices, the Venezuelan economy is deep in recession and continues to sink even as the rest of Latin America recovers. Economists guess inflation could rise to 60 percent in the coming months. Meanwhile, due to a drought, the country is threatened with the shutdown of a hydroelectric plant that supplies 70 percent of its electricity. And Chávez's failure to invest in new plants means there is no backup. There is also the crime epidemic -- homicides have tripled since Chávez took office, making Caracas one of the world's most dangerous cities. At a recent baseball game a sign in the crowd read: "3 Strikes-Lights-Water-Insecurity/President You Struck Out."

Chávez's thugs beat up those baseball fans. The man himself is ranting about the U.S. "occupation" of Haiti; his state television even claimed that the U.S. Navy caused the earthquake using a new secret weapon. On Sunday his government ordered cable networks to drop an opposition-minded television channel.

But Chavez's approval ratings are still sinking: They've dropped to below 50 percent in Venezuela and to 34 percent in the rest of the region. The caudillo has survived a lot of bad news before and may well survive this. But the turning point in the battle between authoritarian populism and liberal democracy in Latin America has passed -- and Chávez has lost.

Despite his current and growing problems, Chavez and his regime won't disappear any time soon. Like all leftist dictators he will linger on while his country collapses around him, likely until some upstart army officer decides the people have had enough. As his desperation grows, however, there is the danger that Chavez may decide to launch a war with one of his neighbors - likely Columbia - to distract the attention of the Venezuelan people from the manifest evidence of his failures.

The Chavez Revolution isn't quite dead yet, but the undertaker is certainly getting ready.